Two-horse race for NASCAR Trucks title comes to Phoenix

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What had been a four-man fight for the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series championship has seemingly turned into a one-on-one battle between defending series champ Matt Crafton and Ryan Blaney.

Johnny Sauter’s bid for the title effectively ended three races ago at Talladega, and last weekend in Texas, Darrell “Bubba” Wallace’s engine failure likely finished his own hopes off.

So now, we’re left with the classic “experience vs. youth” battle between Crafton, a 14-year series veteran, and Blaney, who at the ripe old age of 20 is in position to become the youngest champion in series history.

Crafton is up by 23 points over Blaney as the series begins its weekend at Phoenix International Raceway today with a pair of practice sessions ahead of Friday night’s Lucas Oil 150.

Neither man has won in their Truck Series careers at the one-mile “Desert Jewel.” Needless to say, whichever of the two can change that on Friday will have momentum on their side going into the season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway next weekend.

Blaney has collected two Top-10 finishes at PIR in as many starts, but the advantage could be with Crafton. His experience with the track dates all the way back to his time in the regional NASCAR Southwest Tour, which spawned the likes of current Sprint Cup superstars Kevin Harvick and Kurt Busch and Truck Series champion Ron Hornaday Jr.

“Phoenix is like a home track to me. I’ve got a ton of laps around there since the late 90’s – when I raced a late model around there. We finished fifth there last year trying to protect the points lead and wrap up the championship, so hopefully we can get a win there this year in front of all our friends and family that come out for this race.”

As for Blaney, he’ll be focusing on pit road as a place where he can make up ground in Friday’s race – but also as where he can make a costly error that could put him in a deeper points hole going to Homestead.

“[Phoenix is] still very tough to pass and that makes it more important as a driver to get on pit road good, get in your box – don’t get a speeding penalty but get to the max of your capability on speed entering and leaving the pits,” he said.

Today’s Truck Series practice sessions at PIR will run from 3-3:55 p.m. ET and from 5:30-7 p.m. ET.

Ken Roczen signs with HEP Progressive Ecstar Suzuki for 2023

Roczen Progressive Ecstar Suzuki
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ANAHEIM, California – Ken Roczen will make the move from HRC Honda to H.E.P. Motorsports with the Progressive Ecstar Suzuki team, ending a long and eventful offseason that saw his split from his longstanding team after he committed to running World Supercross (WSX).

“H.E.P. Motorsports is thrilled to announce that the team has signed Ken Roczen as its premier rider for the 2023 season,” the team announced on Instagram. “Former AMA Motocross champion Roczen will be aboard a Suzuki RM-Z450. Roczen, who won his most recent championship on a Suzuki, will be reunited with the brand and bring his exciting style, determination, and grit back to the RM Army.

“Ken Roczen will compete in the upcoming 2023 Supercross and Motocross Championship series which is set to start on January 7 at Anaheim Stadium in Southern California.”

For Roczen, it is a return to the bike of his youth and on which he had some of his greatest professional success.

“This thing has been going on for weeks and weeks and weeks in the making, but there was so much uncertainty,” Roczen told NBC Sports during Monster Energy Supercross Media Sessions. “It was a very unique situation. I just finally signed two nights ago, so it’s really only legit once the ink hits the paper. It’s been in the works for a long time, but there were just a lot of questions and a lot of input from a lot of other teams too.

“Good things take time, and I’m okay with that. I grew up riding Suzuki. Ot’s like a homecoming. It’s a special feeling”

Roczen won the 2016 Lucas Oil Pro Motocross Championship on a Suzuki before making the move to Honda. That year he won nine of 12 Nationals and finished no worse than second as he easily outpaced Eli Tomac by 86 points. He finished third in his next Pro Motocross outing in 2018 after sitting out the outdoor season in 2017.

“I am beyond excited to reconnect with Suzuki for the 3rd time in my career. We’ve had a lot of success in the past and I’m looking forward to seeing what we can accomplish together in our future.” Roczen said in the Instagram post.